It started with a vegetable. “A garden is such a gateway drug,” says Las Vegas gardener, baker and chef-in-the-making Jon Estrada, a former Weekly designer. “I got a garden, and that made me want chickens so I could produce my own eggs. Now I want a goat so I can produce my own milk.”
Estrada isn’t just a supporter of the local food movement; he lives it. When I called him to chat about his chickens, he was on a small, remote island off the Oregon coast, vacationing with his wife at a farm stay. “We’re big foodies,” Estrada says. “As time passes, you search for better quality and better food and chefs that care. The chefs that care all care about the source. When you go grocery shopping, you’re wondering, Where is this food coming from and why am I not producing some of it?” For Estrada, that meant learning about what he was eating, and buying from companies that weren’t destroying the environment. But that wasn’t always easy, so he decided to take farming into his own hands at his Downtown Las Vegas home.
Keeping happy, healthy hens means treating them as you would any other pet, “like you would a dog,” he says. “Hold your chicks as much as possible, ’cause they’ll be really affectionate when they grow up. Give them attention and try to make their lives as [enjoyable] as possible, and they’ll produce really delicious eggs.” Estrada’s eggshells are pastel in color, ranging from pale blue to soft taupe.
If you’re considering producing your own eggs, buy the hen housing first, Estrada suggests. If you want to go next-level, dedicate part of your garden to growing the food hens eat. Estrada feeds his basil and beets, which he says results in healthy, almost orange-colored yolks.
“Hens are pretty low maintenance,” Estrada says. “I feed them treats every morning. Watering is easy, [and] we clean the backyard every week. We have a big enough space that they spread out. … They seriously own my backyard. I share with them. I give them their space.”